“You damn right somethings are wrong,” said Louie.
“I need to find out what exactly,” Alice said. “Is this Pogs?” she said forcefully.
The reader on the Ouija board weakly floated over “yes”.
“Some relief that is,” I said as water leaked from the corners of the wall.
“Good,” Alice said. “Where are you?” She asked.
The reader trembled, as if something were moving against it. Someone, or something.
“I’ve never seen it do that before,” Louie said, “maybe we should… you know. Stop for now?”
I tried to read Alice, but could only go so far.
We finally got out “Nowhere” from the board.
“Well, at least that’s common,” said Alice.
“It is?” I said.
“You’d be surprised what we run into in these tea parties,” said Louis.
The plaster on the walls began to shiver and crack. I wanted nothing more for the sceance to stop and began to beg piteously.
“Sttttaaaaahhhhp, just make it stooooop,” I complained.
“Ok, ya big baby. Just one more question,” said Alice. “Come on, Louie, I need both of you on this.”
Louie nodded but couldn’t stop shaking.
“Pogs… who took your life?” she asked.
The glass on the reader cracked again. The voices in the walls grew closer and more succinct. water streamed outside and thunder rolled.
“B-I-G E-Y-E-S” the reader said, then cracked in two, as did the board.
“I thought that thing was sturdy!” Louie said.
“It was.” Alice said apologetically.
There a horrendous crack as plaster fell from the ceiling and lightning struck almost outside. The power sputtered and actually stayed on. The fell voices between the walls waned a little and then faded away as Alice trashed the board.
“Everything ok?” she asked me.
“NO!” I said, “I mean… well, that still only leaves us with two words?”
Alice shook her head. “Words have meaning and power, for those who know where to look.”
She nodded to the work table.
“Further down the rabbit hole,” I said, looking down at the grimoire.
“Indeed.” Said Alice.
“Where do we go from here?” I asked.
Alice whistled. “It’s a quick fix, but you’re not gonna like it.”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” I said.
“You’d be surprised how often she…” started Louie.
I stared death at him, then grabbed my Moustache Critters cheesy poofs from the counter.
“Let’s save my friend and be done with it,” I said.
She and Louie both nodded. “It’s gonna take some time to set up.” Alice said, guardedly. “But we’ll get our answer.”
“Alright. I don’t have anyone else to go to, as it is.” I said, scarfing some cryptid-shaped cheesy poofs out of fear.
“Right! I love your optimism, it’s palpable.” said Alice. “But no backing out, ok?”
I stammered, and blurted “Hey, who’s backing out?”
Louie gave me an evil Grinch stare. “You was about to, Ben Fried Chicken. B-caw! B-caw!”
We went back and forth so much that by the time we had made a truce Alice had already set up shop, with a black velvet mat with a silver circle in the middle, and four along the outside. There was a candle with a silver brazier in the very center. She lit it and lit an incense stick on it, which she waved around in concentric patterns in the four cardinal directions.
“ARE WE READY?” she growled in a fiendish voice. I fumbled and dropped the rest of the cheesy poofs on the floor.
“HA! Now you goan’ starve, fool. What now?-” Louie began, until Alice kicked him so hard in the shin that he doubled over.
“This operation requires cooperation from all of us.” Alice said. ”Usually, I’d call up my friend Mavis and that Ceremonial Magic guy-“
“Phil.” Said Louie.
“Yeah, good ole Phil. But Mavis is on vacation and Phil’s in the loony bin.” Mused Alice.
“Very encouraging. How do we start?” I asked, warily.
“Well, sit pretzel style on one of the smaller circles.”
“Does it matter which order?” I asked.
“Usually not.” Muttered Louie.
“Didn’t you say to maximize the spell the wizard should sit in the middle?” Louie said.
“Good point Lou, sit down and shut up. Ben, be a gentlemen and fetch be that grimoire.” She said.
I grumbled as I did so, careful to only touch the accursed book on my sleeves. I handed it to a seated Alice who gleefully started to leaf through it, her bemusement turning to concern, and then horror as she reached the end.
“Alice, what’s there?”
“A sigil and some kind of elliptical chant I’m supposed to do. If I’m not mistaken, It links the mind of the caster to the mind of the entity, which, from the elaborate nature of the sigil here, looks like it was pretty badass. I can see where Pogs went wrong. He tried to steal from an energy thief, but whatever he was after was denied to him even after he did what it said.” She said.
“He wanted the Power. All he got was a horrible, charred death on a Brooklyn rooftop and some form of eternal limbo. forever slave to a monster beyond human imagining.” She did jazz hands for good effect.
I shook my head and sat in one of the circles. “So now that we know what really happened, what’s the point of going after him?”
“We cut his chains loose.” She said. “Use astral magick to teleport our spirits to the plane he ended up in. Once there, we find him and we set him free while we still have the chance, whatever the cost…”
There was a deep quiet.
“Where did you even begin to get the power to do something like that, Alice?” I asked, arching my eyebrow.
“Oh… don’t even ask. Ha ha.” She said.
“He had his chance already. He chose to take the ultimate risk. Look where he ended up. Couldn’t the same thing happen to us?
Why should we risk ourselves for him?” Asked Louie.
“Because he was a friend.” I blurted. “As whacked as he was, he wouldn’t have left any of us to hang if he had anything to say about it. We’re, uh, talking about Pogs prior to abandoning everyone to seek ultimate power.”
“Have you heard the tale of the scorpion and the tortoise?” Asked Louis theatrically.
“Wasn’t it a frog?” Asked Alice.
“It doesn’t matter.” I said. “Lou, you’re saying we shouldn’t help him because he was just doing what was in his nature.”
“And because I really, really, REALLY don’t want to go through with this.” He said hopefully.
Alice looked at him with a very difficult-to-read expression. After a time, she said, “Louis, you’re coming with us, or you’re fired.”
Louie shook his head wearily. “At least this is better than going back to retail.”
“I don’t envy you.” I grumbled.
“Join hands, everybody, before I make you do so.” said Alice. Louie and I grudgingly obliged.
“Good.” She said, our hands locked with her cold, steely fingers. “Now, Closer your eyes and clear your minds of everything you can, although if something comes up, just acknowledge it and flick it away.”
“Like a roach” I quipped.
“Or a robo-call.” Louie added.
“Wha? Um, yes, exactly like a robo-call.” She nodded. “Now shut up and let’s start so I can go home and watch witchy Netflix.”
We all started to meditate. At first it was difficult for me because I kept seeing either Chery or me and the guys at game night playing a rousing game of pizza and root beer fed Dungeons and Dorks. (So very ambitious.) At the apex of our calm, Louie and I almost bolted for the door when Alice began to chant in a deep growl, like a frog or something alike. Our curiosity won out in the end and we stayed. I can’t speak for the other two intrepid psychonauts, but I felt a warm dissolving and felt the air around me become hot and humid. Eventually I blacked out completely and, when I came to, what I saw made me wish I had never left the relative safety of my cramped, cozy apartment.
I was on a narrow path leading through a steaming jungle, lined with deformed, leering squat granite statues that held smoldering braziers of coal, occasionally interrupted by a statue of incredible height and having features disquietingly reminiscent of both animal and human. Interestingly, lightning struck around the cone of a vociferously active volcano. If you’ve never seen it, the combination of billowing clouds of volcanic vapor and multipronged lightning of every conceivable spectrum is not a sight to miss.
“Hey, it’s somehow really quiet.” I observed aloud. Next I let out a mouse like squeak as Alice grabbed my scant but visible love handles from behind and said, “BOO! DID I SCARE YOU? MWAHAHAHA!”
“Very funny Alice.” I said.
“I thought so.” She mused, taking a step back. “At least you got here. I was beginning to think something was wrong.”
As she bent over to tie her boots, I noticed something.
“Speaking of which, why do you have boots if you were barefoot in the appartment? Plus, why do you have a… umbilical cord thing stuck out of your back?”
At least that’s what it looked like, though it was iridescent and faded into apparent non-existense a ways out from her form.
“The boots are a low level manifestation.” She explained. “You can change yourself and your environment out here, though everything costs mana.”
“What happens if you run out?” I asked.
“You wake up and feel stupid…usually. As as for our astral cables, that can’t be severed.”
I grabbed mine and got a faint zap, so I recoiled my arm and blinked in incomprehension. “So what purpose do they serve?”
“I believe they’re something of a placeholder, a vestigial connection from when sojourns like this were more common.”
“Speaking of placeholders, where’s Louie?” I asked.
Louie emerged from the thicket, with a large palm stuck to the back of his head. “Look! I am your king! Toga carrot toga!”
Alice put her thumbs and pointer fingers together and rumbled off a few words. The makeshift headdress burst into blue flames and crumbled.
“No being stupid. It’s dangerous here.” Said Alice.
“One more question.” I asked.
“And how.” She said, exasperated.
“We’re here to get Pogs back, right? What happens if we fail?” I said, and winced at another lightning shower.
“If that happens, well, none of us will have much to worry about.” She said grimly.
Before I could protest, Alice did a flourish and produced three flaming brands that gave off no heat. “Faerie fire. It’ll scare off most ankle biters. Come on, let’s save our friend and never come back to this gods forsaken place.”
Louie and I nodded, and followed her deeper into the odd, glowing jungle, as it began to rain, first gently and then in a straight, driving downpour, wary of our way through the winding wood, but unaware that we too were being watched.